Published: June 15, 2020
By: Willie Barney, Co-Publisher Revive Omaha
Beyond the Flames: Why I Believe 2020 is a Turning Point
Where Do We Go From Here? Transformation 2025
Part II: Moving to Solutions
Omaha might not be in flames now, but we have a playbook. George Fraser has called Omaha the Montgomery of the economic rights movement. Pastor Freddie Haynes calls it the Selma of the next great movement. They and others believe there are answers in Omaha.
On a personal level, after years of reading, researching and studying solutions, we embarked nearly fifteen years ago on a journey to move the dial and change the trajectory of our community. Hundreds of organizations and thousands of residents, both youth and adults, have participated. Both black and white. Both civilian and police. North, South, East and West.
I’m hopeful because through collaboration, we have made measurable progress in 8 of 10 key areas.
Through the collective efforts of hundreds of organizations and thousands of residents:
- Gun violence was decreased by 74%
- African-American high school graduation rates increased from 64% to 81%.
- The percentage of African-Americans with a bachelor’s degree increased from 16% to 22%.
- African-American unemployment was reduced from nearly 21% to 7.5%.
- Employment for youth increased from 30 summer jobs to over 1,000.
- The African-American poverty rate was reduced from 33% to 24%.
- A new grocery store was built, some neighborhood stores were converted and fresh fruit and vegetables were brought to the community.
- The Affordable HealthCare Act reduced the percentage of uninsured and did not penalize for pre-existing conditions.
- Major revitalization efforts were launched, securing hundreds of millions of dollars in public/private investments.
- A new wave of innovative black entrepreneurs is emerging.
One of the most significant areas of progress is the work we’ve done collectively to build stronger partnerships between police and community and begin addressing justice issues. Body cameras, diversity training, open communication, police diversity and reductions of use of force have resulted from collaboration. In Omaha, a city of 460,000, there has been one officer involved shooting in the past eighteen months. Cities across the nation are looking to replicate the Omaha 360, a nationally recognized model.
To be sure, we never thought the work was done. We know significant gaps still exist. Yet, we also know that it is possible to move the dial.
In 2014, partly fueled by the flames of Ferguson, we made a proposal to accelerate the progress of African-Americans and North Omaha and identified the level of investment it would require. The plan became known as Transformation 2025 Initiative. It was based on the input of over 8,000 people, implementation of successful projects and aligned with the findings of the Kerner Report and Freedom Agenda.
We secured some initial investments. We aligned efforts. We built effective collaborations. We pushed for large scale investments with specific goals, strategies, initiatives, programs and policies identified.
The areas where we secured funds we have been able to produce tangible, measurable results. But when it came to the larger proposals, we were told there are no additional funds.
“Where would we ever find that level of funding?”
Omaha can find the funds when it becomes a priority. Hundreds of millions of dollars for downtown redevelopment. $140 million for the TD Ameritrade baseball stadium. Hundreds of millions for a new Buffett Cancer Center. $200 million just approved by citizens to improve streets and the list goes on. To be clear, these are all great investments for the City of Omaha. I stand in full support. They are all needed and benefit the city and region. However, these investments prove the point: Omaha and other cities can move the dial and we can find the resources to do what we prioritize.
As described by Obama Foundation officials who visited our community, “Omaha is a get it done city.”
We are now faced with the same decision that the nation and city confronted in 1968.
Invest in people or invest in prisons? Invest in residents or invest in buildings. Invest in prevention or invest in penalties. Invest in proactive solutions or civil unrest.
In 2020, what decision will we make? This is our turning point.
We know how to put out the fire. I believe that collectively, with the fires raging and in the midst of a pandemic, we will make the right decision. In the words of Dr. King, “We will finally make justice a reality for all of God’s children.”
As African-Americans, we must unite and do our part. Support black businesses and businesses in North Omaha. Vote. Create generational wealth. Continue reinforcing the importance of education. Take care of our health. Work together to address justice and reform. Engage with the community to address race relations and inequities. Use all of our gifts and assets. Partner with allies.
Omaha. America. You must do your part. Listen. Allow African-Americans and residents from neighborhoods most impacted to lead. Partner and support. Be an ally. Implement new policies to reform the justice system. It is time to invest at the scale of the problem.
Invest in entrepreneurship and access to credit and capital. Invest in employment, diversity and higher wages. Invest in safe, affordable housing and mixed income neighborhoods. Invest in education and high performing school models. Invest in prevention, intervention, community policing and reentry programs. Invest to make healthcare accessible and affordable for all.
We can all win. Let’s design a society and democracy that works for all of its citizens. The rest of the world is watching. Will this grand experiment finally and fully become what it can be? A place where all citizens are spiritually, economically and socially thriving, healthy and prosperous.
In Omaha, the early indications from all sectors is that it will be different this time. We have the will and the appetite to make this the turning point. We can put the flames out for good this time.
Two additional thoughts. There are other plans that have been developed and numerous individuals and groups who are working diligently on their initiatives, projects, programs and policies. Our goal is to create a combined plan that we can all work on together and do our part in a collaborative way.
In addition, many individuals, organizations, foundations, businesses and ministries have invested tremendous amounts of time, talent and treasure into various initiatives generating measurable outcomes. We should pause and recognize these committed partners. Now, together, we will focus more intensely on wealth, health and ownership.
Ted Lampkin: Rising to Meet the Challenge
Charles Drew Health Center
Growing up down the street from Charles Drew Health Center, Inc., it was no question for Ted Lampkin to give back to the community that helped raise him.
“I’m passionate about public health because I am a product of public health services. Coming up, my family and I used the services at Charles Drew.”
As the Associate Director of Behavioral Health Services, Ted has been on the front-line teaching and training team members in new approaches to behavioral health. It’s no surprise that when COVID-19 struck, Ted was front and center.
“My role was to help transition the Behavioral Health department from doing face-to-face therapy to telehealth therapy.”
While COVID-19 began to escalate, increasing evidence highlighted racial and ethnic minority groups are being disproportionately affected by COVID-19.
“We made it easy for the patients, providing traditional face-to-face, telehealth, and when needed telephonic sessions. A lot of patients had anxiety about COVID-19 and being in the middle of a pandemic, in addition to their other stressers.”
“The benefit of telehealth is we can continue to provide quality service during a pandemic. You take out the barriers to care with telehealth.”
Brenda Avant: Providing Quality Healthcare in the Midst of COVID-19
Charles Drew Health Center
As a North Omaha native, Family Nurse Practitioner, Brenda Avant, understands educating her patients about their healthcare choices is a foundational principle to accessing safe and quality healthcare.
When the pandemic shut down Omaha metro schools, Brenda and the team members at Charles Drew Health Center, Inc. School-based Health Centers had to switch gears. While still providing in-person care, the SBHC Medical providers began utilizing telehealth to remain in contact with their patients.
“The telehealth program at Charles Drew really grew at that time. As Medical providers, we were able to continue serving our student patients through telehealth. The parents really enjoyed it because they felt even through a pandemic their child’s provider is still in tune with their needs.”
As the pandemic surged, the healthcare inequalities within the American health system began to come to the foreground. “It made me proud to see that Charles Drew was a front runner in COVID-19. The community was looking to us to help guide them through.”
“Charles Drew made it very easy for the population we serve to continue receiving care. We may be small, but we are mighty.”
Larry Duncan: Resiliency in the Face of a Crisis
Charles Drew Health Center
Hailing from the south side of Chicago, Larry Duncan, Director of Behavioral Health Services at Charles Drew Health Center, Inc. has always had a passion for helping others. “My passion, at first, started off with a drug and alcohol emphasis based on my own experiences and knowledge. As I grew and received more education, mental health became the next umbrella. It rests with my understanding that there are unique issues that affect black and brown people, and people who are marginalized.”
Within the first year serving at Charles Drew, Larry faced his biggest challenge yet, leading a team while in the mists of coronavirus. “The number one thing we did quickly was become active.” As COVID-19 began to highlight the care gaps within marginalized communities, the Behavioral Health team at Charles Drew looked to bridge those gaps within the community.
“For our population it was a dual threat. On one side of the coin, the crisis becomes an additional stress to a population of people who already live with stress. On the flip side of the coin, the lack of community and social interaction increased depression, anxiety, and a sense of hopelessness.”
The message was simple, but practical: Practice the Five Cs–Connection, Commitment, Communion, Contain, and Continue.
Looking back, one of the greatest strengths of Charles Drew, in Larry’s eyes, was the ability to remain active. While most were waiting, frozen in their activity, Charles Drew advanced forward.
“We got better and better at it. We were doing testing on the front line when testing was just starting. As masks began to be required, we were handing them out to the community members in need. Whatever needed to be done in the face of this virus, we did it.”